Launching New TOTBO Workshop Webclips

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I am kicking off a series of excerpts from my Think Outside the Box Office Master Classes today on my new YouTube Channel TheJonReiss. I am rebooting my YouTube channel because even though I had some decent views on YouTube.com/jfilm1 – it didn’t feel like that accurate or searchable. Since I am going to start releasing regular content not only from my workshops, but also interviews with filmmakers, artists and people on the cutting edge of audience engagement, I thought it was time to start fresh. On the channel you can also see excerpts from my film and music video work as well. I look forward to your thoughts on the clips as they roll out.

This week’s post concerns setting the goals for your release. I am a firm believer that it is essential for filmmakers to have a clear idea of what their goals are for their film’s release and to prioritize one or perhaps 2 specific goals because a film team will use different release strategies to achieve different goals. I see 4 main goals that most filmmakers strive for in their releases:

1. Money (Fortune)

2. A career launch, helping get another film made. (Fame – for a traditional career based on the previous film career paradigm that only exists for a small percentage of filmmakers these days).

3. Audience (some people just want their film to be seen by an audience as wide as possible.

4. Change the World – especially for documentary.

However I encourage most (if not all) filmmakers to consider a fifth goal:

5. A long-term relationship with a potentially sustainable audience/fan base. This is an essential component of any modern media release – yet most filmmakers still do not consider this a primary goal. This goal is different in objective than the old school fame based career launch (Number 2 above). It is not about press, “heat”, ego. Its about connection, engagement and a bringing your fans with you from project to project. This goal is not achievable if you sell your film outright in an all-rights scenario. In that case your distributor has access to your audience data – not you (although most don’t cultivate this data – yet).

Next week’s clip will talk about the importance of prioritizing your goals. In other words you are better off pursuing one goal. If you don’t, you are at the risk of not achieving any of your goals. Upcoming posts will concern identifying and engaging audience, creating events, merchandise, digital rights, timing as well as interviews with artists and filmmakers such as Timo Vuorensola, Molly Crabapple, Corey McAbee and many more.

I’m launching the channel today as part of my Spring Workshop Kickoff. Yesterday I gave a “Strategic Distribution Workshop 202” at Hot Docs Toronto. I will be helping lead the IFP Filmmaker Labs in NYC in May and June. I will also be giving a mini-workshop at Sheffield Doc Fest in June 15th and then in London on June 23, 24th for a newly revamped two day TOTBO Distribution Master Class.

I’ve also created some Hot Docs Specials on my store where you can get a PDF of TOTBO for $4.95 and a hard copy for $9.95.

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Excerpt: Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution

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Excerpt from “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (2nd Edition, Focal Press) by Stacey Parks. Available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

Interview With Filmmaker Jon Reiss On Target Audience

Q: Tell us about Target Audience and what will happen if a filmmaker doesn’t identify this early on in the process?

A: To me a target audience is one of the niches that exist in the world that would be interested in your film (or anything that you do).   A niche is a group of people focused on a particular interest.  They are accessible.  You can afford to market to them.

For instance in the case of my film “Bomb It”, one of the niche audiences is graffiti writers and street artists.  Another niche audience is people who love graffiti and street art.  A third audience for Bomb It is underground hip hop (specifically people who argue over how many “elements” there are in hip hop – graffiti often being called one of the “4 elements of hip hop” (some people feel that there are 5, others 9, etc).  While you may think that people who love hip hop is also an audience – that is too broad of an audience for us to tackle with limited means. It is best to drill down as deep as possible to the narrowest niche, or core within a niche, in order to begin engagement.

This process takes time and the earlier you start it, the better.  Your release will be much more successful (assuming connection with audience is one of your goals) if you have started to engage your audience (or at least the core of your audience) prior to your release.  If you don’t, you will be struggling to gain audience during your release. By not laying this foundation, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot.

Q: Once you identify your Target Audience, what’s next? Any tips on aggregating?

For me there are 3 TOTBO (Think Outside the Box Office) Steps of Audience Engagement:

1.  Who?  You must identify your audience – discussed in #1 above.  And within each niche you should identify the core audience(s) within each niche.

2.  Where?  You must determine where and how this audience(s) receives information – and it will be different for every audience.  Some audiences don’t use social networks – even today.  Others are on Facebook or Ning more than Twitter.   Each niche will have certain blogs that are important to it.  You determine this via research.

3.  How?  Does this audience consume media?  In other words – how might they watch or interact with the story of your film?   Will they go see a live event, do they still buy DVDs.  What other kinds of merchandise might they buy?  On what platforms do they watch digital content?   You need to know this in order to connect your final film (or any product) with your audience(s).

Q: I hear filmmakers say all the time how difficult it is to start any type of campaign for their film during Pre-Production because nothing is really ‘happening’ yet. In your opinion, how can filmmakers create an initial campaign for their films during Pre-Pro?

I think “campaign” is the wrong way to think about it.  I recommend that people/filmmakers think in terms of connection.  You have fans out in the world (they may not know you exist) – you need to connect with them.

Topics could include: What are you interested in?  Why are you making this film?  What are your struggles?  How might you need help? How can your audience contribute to your film, not just financially (crowd funding), but also creatively (crowdsourcing)?  Ask them questions about different concepts, techniques you are considering etc.   Crowd funding and crowdsourcing are as important for audience connection as it is for money or creative contributions.

But more importantly – don’t just talk about yourself and your film. In fact no more than 20% of what you talk about or put out through your various channels should be about your film and yourself. 80% (at least) should information valuable (or entertaining) to your audience.   Go out and listen to your community and then become an authority within that community. Talk about the film once in a while – and then when you are in release, your audience will gladly support, promote, and refer you.

Q: All this can be so overwhelming to think about doing on your own — what kind of team should filmmakers be building during Pre-Pro to facilitate the marketing of their film?

I believe that filmmaking is a two-part process.  The first part is creating the film – the second part is connecting that film with an audience.   I think the most important team member to bring on in Pre-Production is the person I call the Producer of Marketing and Distribution – or PMD.   This person is the point person for all aspects of audience engagement as outlined above.   If you recognize that it is important to connect with audiences, then you absolutely need to devote resources to this process.  Everyone with traditional film positions already has their plate full making the film.  Filmmakers need to realize that unless they themselves will take on this work, they must get someone on their crew who will, just like they have someone line produce or edit.   That is why I created the position of the PMD in Think Outside the Box Office, because unless there is a clearly defined role for these tasks, they will not get done.

Q: Tell us about “Bomb-It” – what did you if anything during Pre-Pro that set you up for a successful release of the film later?

For “Bomb It” we started shooting right away,  so our pre-production and production happened simultaneously – for about 2 years.  But all during this time we were actively engaging our audience:

1.  We set up a website and a blog.  We posted regularly to this blog, very rarely about our film.  We posted almost exclusively about our subject – graffiti and street art.  Specifically, we posted items that interested us and we felt would be interesting to our audience.  We featured artists that we interviewed as well as bloggers, journalists and influencers within our community – see #6 below.

2. On our website we incentivized people to join our email list by offering to mail them stickers (yes via snail mail). This is an early example of an Email for Media campaign.  It cost a few hundred dollars to execute but 1).  It was directed at our specific audience.  2). It gave people something in exchange for what they were giving us (their email address).   We had 1000 people on our list by our premiere.

3.  We set up a Myspace page.  Remember this is 2004/2005 when we started (Facebook wasn’t the force it is now – and our audience was not on Facebook at that time. Our audiences were on Myspace – see research above).  By the time we premiered at Tribeca Film Festival we had nearly 5000 fans on Myspace.

4.   We cut trailers as soon as we had enough footage and posted them to YouTube – and directed our audience to them.  We were on our 2nd trailer by the time we premiered.

5.  We reached out to key bloggers, journalists, galleries and influencers within the community.   We created friendships with these people that lasted beyond the release.

Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert and Producer with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site www.FilmSpecific.com The 2nd edition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

5 Do’s and Don’t’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release

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I met with Nolan from Gravitas, who I feel is one of the companies that really gets VOD for independents,  and he started saying – “filmmakers should watch out for this… it would be great if filmmakers would do…”  And since he was listing them off – I immediately asked him to write up 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts of VOD for filmmakers – and he graciously obliged – and here it is – Thank you so much Nolan for your continued generosity in helping filmmakers navigate this new space:

By Nolan Gallagher, Founder and CEO Gravitas Ventures

Jon Reiss was gracious enough to ask me to write this blog post to help shed some perspective on how to navigate the increasingly exciting (and complex) world of Video On Demand film releasing.

I believe Jon asked me to write this because our company, Gravitas Ventures, releases over 500 films a year on VOD in all of its flavors/windows including transactional, subscription, and ad sponsored. Since more and more people have been enjoying films through digital cable, their Netflix or hulu Plus subscriptions, or on Apple iTunes, VOD has been driving a majority of deals out of film festivals.

While VOD is increasingly important right now, the ability to enjoy films in this manner has actually been around for almost a decade. During that time I had the good fortune to work for a cable operator (Comcast), a studio (Warner Bros) and for the last six years Gravitas. It’s from those experiences, plus some great feedback from my team at Gravitas, that I offer these suggestions for a VOD release:

5 Do’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release

1. Do Watch Windows- There is potentially big money in digital distribution.  Especially, if the timing of a release is coordinated by an industry expert with deep contacts within VOD specifically. A filmmaker should avoid licensing rights to one VOD platform first (say an online site) in an effort to “get the film out there.” Unfortunately, this happens often and can cost filmmakers tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are over one hundred different cable, satellite, telco and online VOD platforms and they do not like to be disadvantaged against each other. There are industry norms in the releasing of a film and by giving one operator an earlier window than the rest, you may jeopardize both carriage and favorable merchandising placement.

2. Do Reach the Masses.  Today, filmmakers can reach over 100 million North American homes inexpensively. VOD is also flexible, so that as technology evolves, your film will find ever more opportunities to be seen. Working with knowledgeable companies that are on top of the daily changes in distribution will allow filmmakers to reach a wide audience today and tomorrow.

3. Do Engage those Masses– Do spend a lot of time early in the process making sure that you are dedicating someone to build out your social media presence.  Facebook, Twitter, and even your own website can be very powerful tools for getting your message out, but building presence take plenty of dedicated work. We have seen remarkable results from producers who do this right versus those who just go through the motions.

4. Do Your Homework- Soak up VOD insights like a sponge. Talk among your filmmaking community about what has and has not worked on past films. Read blogs, attend panels, follow industry people on twitter and do not be afraid to ask distributors the tough questions. An informed filmmaker allows distributors to spend less time on basic education and more on finding creative ways to make your film release a success.

5. Do Try to Be Nice– It’s easier said than done some days, but Patrick Swayze nailed this advice in Roadhouse. Courtesy goes both ways for filmmaker teams and those distribution companies fortunate to work on a project. The entertainment industry is filled with no shortage of shall we say interesting personalities and the nice ones often do finish first in VOD.

5 Don’t’s on a Video On Demand Release

1.  Don’t Hide in Anonymity– The most unsuccessful VOD releases are the ones that do not happen. Put another way, if Gravitas or any other distributor cannot reach you to have a conversation, it will be hard to get your film into 100 million VOD homes. Each film should choose one person as a point of contact for distribution inquiries and include a real phone number and personal email address (not info@movietitlename.com) on your film’s website and on its IMDB Pro page. It seems so simple, yet about 25% of films make it very difficult to engage in a conversation.

2.  Don’t Get stuck in the “Library”- to reiterate the importance of windows, avoid putting your film up on any internet platforms and/or releasing your DVD prior to your cable VOD launch.  Cable VOD makes up approximately 70% of your digital revenues and if you “street” your film prior to it’s cable VOD launch you will be a “library” title which means a lower price point, less visibility in VOD guides and far less revenues.

3. Don’t Run out of Gas at the Finish Line – While VOD is less expensive than replicating DVDs, it is not necessarily free to reach tens of millions of homes. Please remember that encoding and delivery costs could be thousands depending on the various VOD opportunities.  Often post production gets the short end of the stick when making a film, but what are going to do with a completed film that you can’t afford to deliver to your audience?

4. Don’t Rush into an All Rights Deal- Technology and consumer habits are changing rapidly. Savvy producers looking to harness these opportunities are increasingly skeptical of 10-15 year all rights deals for marginal upfront fees. Independent film distribution is awash in innovation and you will want a company with a strong VOD track record to help seize these lucrative new opportunities.

5. Don’t Go it Alone– It takes a team (filmmakers, producers, distributors, PR agencies, post production vendors and trusted advisers to name a few) to help usher in a successful release. One of the most rewarding aspects of film distribution is collaborating with the thousands of fellow movie enthusiasts to bring great stories to VOD. There is so much knowledge and friends to be gleaned from a great team effort.

I look forward to reading more suggestions for good do’s and don’t in the comments section. Should anyone have any questions for me directly, I can be reached at Nolan@gravitasventures.com or @gravitasvod.

Thanks,
Nolan Gallagher

Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt 1

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Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt  1

By Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler

For the past six months, my company, Hybrid Cinema, has been working on the release of Bob Hercules’s new documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance,about the history of the Joffrey ballet. This is a capsule post to explain the highlights of launching a documentary into the marketplace when working with a modest budget. Future posts will go more in depth on certain aspects of this release.

With at least 35,000 feature films on the film festival circuit every year, by some estimates, very few films are going to premiere at one of the top 5 film festivals.   When that happens, filmmakers need to decide what is the best launch for their film.   We concluded that in the case of the Joffrey film (and we feel that this is the case for many films), some form of robust live event premiere would help to create awareness for the film in the oversaturated media landscape.   Live events are great publicity generators, allowing you to focus marketing efforts on a specific event.   Festivals are great partners for these types of events – even if you don’t get into a top 10 festival – because you can create a unique experience by partnering with open minded and adventurous festival that is already connected to press and audiences.

In creating a live event premiere, you need to consider the following:

1.  A premiere that will reach your audience.  Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey:  Mavericks of American Dance.   Sure, there are other audiences for a film like this – but it is essential to go after who will be the most passionate about seeing the film.   For this reason, we targeted the Dance on Camera Film Festival which not only is one of the premiere dance film festivals in the world, it is based in New York City – the birthplace of the Joffrey ballet and the center of the dance world in the United States.

2. Creating an event that will garner attention for your film.   Festivals have many films to care for and promote as well as promoting the brand of the festival in general and often they have a small staff to accomplish all of this.  There is a lot for the media to choose from for coverage.  What will make your film unique and interesting to cover?  We decided early on to partner with Emerging Pictures to simulcast the screening of Joffrey at the DOC festival not only to reach a nationwide audience, but to create a larger story for the press to pay attention to. Emerging was a natural choice because they screen live ballet performances from Europe through a digital network of cinemas throughout the US, so their cinemas already have an audience for this type of programming. They also have the technology in place at Lincoln Center that enables a netcast to happen so the venue and the festival wouldn’t have to figure out the logistics of the simulcast.

Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always  enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences.   You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend.  Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.    Having this panel discussion netcast live to theaters around the country allowed audiences in to ask questions of this panel as well as interact with each other via Twitter using the hashtag  #joffreymovie – creating a unique event not only in the Walter Reade Theater in New York City, but in 44 other cities around the country at the same time. This is also a unique event for media coverage because so few films take advantage of the technology today that enables something like this to happen and having such a concentration of iconic dancers in one place makes this newsworthy.

3. The budget you have to work with.  We have a modest budget for the release of Joffrey so we had to do a lot with limited means.  We have a small staff handling publicity, audience outreach, booking screenings and organizing merchandise sales. Bearing this in mind, we needed the most bang for the effort because we launched the film into the market during our festival premiere. We won’t have separate budgets for festival publicity and then release publicity in order to start selling.

Utilizing the Emerging network only costs at most $1000 (which can be taken off the top).  Similar satellite systems through companies like Fathom and Cinedigm can cost $75,000 to $250,000 because of the cost in satellite time.

In addition, by covering much of the country at the same time – it allowed us to pursue reviews and articles in multiple markets – thereby most effective use of our publicity budget.

4. Creating assets before and during the release.

In another post, we will talk at length about the need for additional media assets to promote your film and all of the ways we have done this.   One way that you can garner additional assets during release is by filming and documenting your events.

You want to film the event itself – outside the theater, crowd shots, audience arriving at seats, applause, the audience watching the film during the screening and the entire Q&A. Very important to capture audience expectation before and reaction after the screening.  I recommend having two cameras so that one can be filming the Q&A and the other filming the crowd reaction outside.  You also want a photographer shooting the event if possible.

What you film can be utilized in a number of ways:

  • Short promotional videos that you can release on your Youtube channel to promote the film.  For the premiere we created two videos.  The first is about the film, opening night and audience reaction.

The second piece which we are now premiering with this article concerns the simulcast of the film and the audience participation.

  • Still photography of the people and personalities at the event (especially those that are interesting to your core audience and some that may be interesting to society pages and other publications).
  • Longer pieces of the Q&A panel discussion or even of just the filmmakers in conversation.  You can use these on your extra features.  Since our extra features have already been locked and since we have received numerous requests from people around the country to see these panels, we are going to put the full-length panel discussions up on the web on Distrify and charge a dollar or two for the viewing as an additional revenue stream.

5. The need to have the next steps planned. Many times filmmakers are so busy planning their premiere, they neglect to prepare for what will happen after this. Where will all of this publicity attention go? In the past, they hoped it led to a distribution deal, but that cannot be relied upon now. There is no reason that direct distribution should not be the next step and that some kind of event theatrical screenings can be booked. In the lead up and following our premiere, we have booked over 20 other screenings and we continue to set up screenings. We also launched our online store just after the premiere and have sold several thousand dollars in DVDs/merchandise. Don’t let the efforts and the financial resources you put into the premiere stall out from waiting. In a future post, we will talk about how we prepared for sales by setting up the web store and creating the merchandise.

The Results

We ended up screening in 45 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film.   A number of these screenings actually sold out.  We received press articles and reviews in a number of major markets (even though the film was only screening once).    Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie  reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.   Some of the comments we received through twitter:

#JoffreyMovie Santa Fe, NM – our audience loved it, thank you so much! congrats on premiering a new, high tech way of running a Q&A!”

@JoffreyMovie #joffreymovie It’s insightful, performance history is fantastic. pic.twitter.com/tBeFP9IN.”

“The excellent #joffreymovie & panel yesterday @danceoncamera made me wistful for @joffreyballet of old. I loved taking class w Mr. Joffrey.”

The release continues and we will provide some in depth posts on this site of the different methods we have used to reach audiences and generate awareness and sales for the film.

Jon Reiss is a filmmaker, author and strategist who wrote the book Think Outside the Box Office and is a year round lab leader for the IFP Filmmaker Labs.  He will be at SXSW this weekend participating in the panel “Tough Love: Why You’re Still Not Festival Ready” on Saturday, March 10, 2012 He will also be signing the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul that he co-wrote with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler.   Next week he will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for the Digital Capital Symposium March 13-14, speaking on Artistic Entrepreneurship.  If you’re in the Austin or Baltimore areas, please drop in and introduce yourself. Follow Like

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist for independent films. Through the use of content marketing tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, and online media publications, as well as relationship building with organizations & influencers, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged & robust online community for their work that will help develop and sustain their careers. Currently, she is working with Hybrid Cinema to release the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, a history of the Joffrey Ballet. She can be reached on Facebook, on Twitter  and on Google Plus.

Sound It Out!

Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.

SOUND IT OUT (75 mins) is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England. A cultural haven in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, SOUND IT OUT documents a place that is thriving against the odds and the local community that keeps it alive.

The film is directed by Jeanie Finlay who grew up three miles from the shop, and represents a distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, the North and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives.  Sally Hodgson is the PMD on the project who I have written about before.

What is also distinctive about SOUND IT OUT is the innovative merchandise that they are offering. Check out their store.   One of the key things you want to try to do with merchandise – if offer scarce goods – limited editions that will be valued by fans.  In addition to selling a classic DVD, they have produced an ultra limited edition 7″ gate-fold version of the DVD (only 350 copies are available for sale). The DVD, which was printed with grooves like a vinyl record, is mounted on sleeve notes with credits for supporters of the film on IndieGoGo and thank yous by the director. The limited edition DVD also includes artwork by Amy Blackwell as well a hand numbered, 4 track baby blue vinyl soundtrack EP. The EP features Saint Saviour “When you smile,” The Chapman Family “Sound of the Radio,” Detective Instinct “Witches Birdies,” and Das Wanderlust “Pyrmintro.”

SOUND IT OUT also offers some more traditional fare including stickers, pin badges, and posters to go with more unique items like a pair of vinyl earrings custom designed by the wonderful people at Tatty Devine.

I am a firm believer that in providing customers a way to engage your film at various price points – so that they can choose a level that feels right for them.  This is common for crowdfund campaigns, but is only starting to be adopted by independents in their stores.  Sound It Out are selling various combinations of their merchandise. You can buy the ltd edition boutique vinyl DVD together with the classic DVD. There is also the “whole shebang” combo deal, which bundles together the Boutique DVD, A2 poster (paper), stickers and badges.

Through their clever merchandising SOUND IT OUT shows that a little ingenuity goes a long way. By offering limited edition items in addition and combination with more traditional fare, SOUND IT OUT widens their net, creating unique value for unique consumers to ensure that no dollar is left on the table.

 

How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business Part 2

Here is part 2 of PMD  J.X. Carrera’s  post on how he uses E-Junkie to distribute a film that he made while doing the actual fulfillment himself.

3:  Advertising using Google Ads

Making my tutorial would be useless if no one knew that it existed, so I launched an ambitious advertising campaign that utilized first-tier ad services like Google Adsense and Yahoo SM, as well as several second-tier ad services that most people never hear about.  Everything except Google Ads was a waste of my time and money.  Maybe 97% of my sales came from Google Ads, 3% came from Yahoo SM, and I never got a single sale through the lesser known second-tier services.  (Yahoo SM is supposed to be a quality service, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me. )

I focused all of my efforts on Google Ads and dumped the rest.  On Google Ads, I created several different ads, experimented with dozens of keywords, analyzed the results, and tweaked continuously over the course of a couple of weeks.  I soon settled on the best performing ad and keyword combination that was bringing in a decent 1-2% click-thru-rate.  On average, I pay about 40-60 cents every time someone does a google search and clicks on my text ad, which links them to my website. Purchase rate after click through hovers around 6%, and about a quarter to a third of the revenue generated from Google Ads is circled back into advertising on Google Ads.

4: Amazon as a Supplemental Revenue Stream

Many writers, such as Jed Riffe, have already done a great job articulating the how-to’s for listing a product on Amazon, so there’s not much need for me to dive into it. But it is worth mentioning that the revenue generated from my DVD listing on Amazon is a fraction of the revenue generated from the sales on my website.  All the Google Ads link to my website, not Amazon.

5: Retail Outlets Can Diminish Your Revenue Stream

Although I began focused on creating an automated business, I also desired to have my video tutorial stocked in a retail outlet, thinking that it would help me generate hoards of cash.  Perhaps this desire also stemmed from a subconscious need to prove that my video tutorial was good enough to exist in an established brick-and-mortar outlet — not the best motivation.  I approached one of the buyers for a large retail outlet based in New York City, and sure enough they bought a box load of DVDs from me at $19.50 each.  At the time, I found this to be extremely gratifying.

Then I noticed an odd occurrence, which was the sales generated from my website took an unexplained dip.  Upon investigating, I found that this retail outlet was selling my tutorial through their own online website at a discounted price.  People who had discovered Crash Course: Final Cut Pro were now buying it cheaper elsewhere, which means I was being undercut and making less money than before.  After that, I significantly decreased my tutorial’s retail presence.  Sometimes, there’s value in being the exclusive or semi-exclusive seller of a niche product.

4:  Self-distribution Overview

For clarity, here’s a quick rundown of all the steps for this automated business:

An aspiring editor or filmmaker google searches the phrase “final cut pro tutorial,” they see my text ad, click it, and go to my website. If they buy the tutorial as a download, the money gets deposited in my Paypal account and E-junkie sends the buyer a link to download the Quicktime file.  If they buy a DVD instead, Paypal sends me a notice that I have to package and mail out a DVD.  My Google Adsense account is linked to my Paypal account, so revenue made from the tutorial pays for the advertising.  Whenever Google Ads runs low on money, it just charges my Paypal account automatically.

As I write this post, everything sounds a bit too easy. The truth is, setting up things like Amazon, E-junkie, and Google Adsense may be time consuming, but not actually difficult in terms of brain power needed. Creating good content, however, is usually both time consuming and mentally intensive.  By far the hardest part of my automated business was the actual creation of the tutorial.  Curating information and trying to figure out how to best teach an idea simply and effectively is painstaking.  It makes me think of the quote by Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  But I wanted a hard-hitting tutorial that editors would recommend to their friends and that I could be proud of creating.  I also took the time to make sure the copy, design, and functionality of my website portrayed a sense of professionalism that would allow customers to feel safe and secure when purchasing from me.  In the end, all the hard work paid off: I’ve sold hundreds of DVDs and downloads, and have received incredibly positive feedback from customers.

5: Wrap up

I started Crash Course: Final Cut Pro with two humble goals: 1) that I would be able to wake up every morning, walk over to my computer, and see money deposited in my Paypal account because someone had purchased a tutorial while I slept, and  2) that I would add genuine value to the filmmaking community by helping to train aspiring editors, giving them a learning tool that I wish I had while first learning Final Cut Pro.

What really makes Crash Course: Final Cut Pro unique, however, isn’t just the content, but its immediate availability as a DRM free download.

Creating and selling a Quicktime file is a lot easier than creating and selling a DVD, yet many filmmakers seem to be reluctant to make their movies available as a download.  I believe this stems from an overblown fear of piracy.  As far as the indie world is concerned, I believe you’re losing money by not offering your video as a download.  There have been many times where I would have purchased a movie instantly had it been available as a download, but since it wasn’t, I moved on to viewing something else.  Briefly stated, people want to watch video in the format of their choosing, and with services like E-junkie, it’s now incredibly easy for filmmakers to quench this desire.

How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business Part 1

We’ve been exploring alternatives to fulfillment for filmmakers in the last month or two.  Many filmmakers are actually doing self fulfillment when their numbers are low – and using a shopping cart such as E-Junkie.    J.X. Carrera is a PMD who specializes in online media and international entertainment, particularly in regards to China and Japan.   He offered to write up how he uses E-Junkie to distribute a film that he made while doing the actual fulfillment himself.
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How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business

In this walkthrough, I’m going to break down how to create a simple automated business in which you are selling a video in the form of a download or a DVD from your own exclusive website to a niche market. For illustrative purposes, I’ll be using my own product and automated business – a video tutorial called Crash Course: Final Cut Pro that I sell from papersamurai.net – as a case study. Although the product is a video tutorial, the same DIY process would be applied to narratives, docs, books, music, software, and much more. I’ll also be discussing my decision to distribute downloads through the use of E-junkie in finer detail, since the opportunity for filmmakers to sell their movies as downloads (.avi, Quicktime) is often overlooked.

1. Find Your Niche, Assess its Needs
The niche market I chose was the Final Cut Pro tutorial market. Despite there being an abundance of tutorials already in existence, I strongly felt there was an unmet need for a high-caliber Final Cut Pro tutorial for beginners. Most FCP tutorials touted being 5-6 hours long, which I felt didn’t appeal to the newbies who just wanted a comprehensive crash course that would allow them to “jump right into the game.” It took several weeks for me to script, screen capture, and edit my tutorial, and I did it all with just my laptop and a good external microphone. The only software I used was Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and ScreenFlow, a fantastic screen capturing software. I paid a web designer/graphic artist $800 to work side-by-side with me in building a website using Drupal, as well as design a logo and DVD cover.

2: Using E-junkie to Sell Downloads
I knew I wanted to offer my customers the choice of buying the tutorial as either a DVD for $39, or a download for $29, but I wasn’t sure how to handle the digital delivery. After researching all the services available I decided E-junkie was the best choice to handle my needs. E-junkie provided me with buy buttons and a shopping cart that integrated seamlessly with both my website and Paypal, as well as automated the secure delivery of my downloadable video file.
E-junkie’s pricing is determined in two ways: the number of products being sold and the file size of the download. After testing various compressed versions of my tutorial, I found that 500 MB allowed me to deliver a 70-minute HD Quicktime file without much detail loss. For $18/month, E-junkie would allow me to upload the 500 MB file to their server and sell it an unlimited number of times. But it’s important to mention that at $18/month, E-junkie also allows you to issue downloads from any web server. In other words, if I wanted to, I could’ve compressed a 1GB file, uploaded it onto my own web server, and still have used E-junkie to handle its delivery – all for the same price. Note to non-profits: E-junkie also boasts that they will consider giving you their services for free. To quote from their site: “Non-profit organizations (charitable, humanitarian, or otherwise just plain awesome causes in our opinion) can qualify for FREE E-junkie services.”
With E-junkie, when a customer purchases a download from my site, a download link is emailed to him or her. One of my initial concerns about this was that the download link could easily be forwarded to other people or posted on a forum. To E-junkie’s credit, their service is highly customizable, and I could limit how many times the download link could be accessed before expiring. I knew a 500 MB file would be difficult for customers with slow bandwidth to download, and if I didn’t allow for multiple download attempts per link, I would be inundated with angry emails. So I decided to set the limit for the number of attempted downloads to 5. If the customer failed to download the file after 5 attempts, they would have to email me directly for assistance, at which point I’d hop on the E-junkie interface and email them a new download link with no questions asked.
I also use E-junkie to handle the payment for the DVD version of my tutorial. This is the one part of my tutorial business that is not automated but easily could be. Instead of paying a fulfillment service to pack and ship the DVDs for me, I have no problem just dropping DVDs in the mail whenever I go to return my latest Netflix.
In terms of sales, the majority of my business comes from downloads, which outnumber DVD purchases 3-1. I make a few more dollars with the DVD than I do the download, however, so I would never eliminate the DVD option.

Calling all Filmmakers: Deadline Nears for IFP Labs

I am proud to be a part of the IFP Filmmaker Labs which are the first ever completion, distribution and marketing lab. The deadlines for this year’s cycle is fast approaching. Documentary films must apply online by March 11th. Narrative films have until April 8th to apply online. Even though IFP and the labs are located in NYC, films from across the United States and the rest of the world are encouraged to apply. The labs are also FREE, but you do have to pay your own way to get to and stay in NYC for the three lab periods (May or June, September, December).

Lab alumni are already showing well this year. Three premiered in Competition at Sundance 2011: Alrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda, Andrew Dosunmu’s Restless City and Dee Rees’ Pariah which was acquired by Focus Features. Victoria Mahoney’s Yelling to the Sky premiered in Competition at the Berlin International Film Festival followed by SXSW. Also premiering at SXSW is Sara Terry’s documentary Fambul Tok. Alumni also showed at DOCNYC, Slamdance, and the upcoming Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

Here is the official blurb from IFP:
IFP Independent Filmmaker Labs
Call for Entries: First Feature Directors with Documentary or Narrative Films in Post-Production
Documentary Deadline: March 11 Narrative Deadline: April 8
IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs are a year-long fellowship supporting independent filmmakers when they need it most: through the completion, marketing, and distribution of their first features. Labs provide community, mentorship, and film-specific strategies to help filmmakers reach their artistic goals, support the film’s launch, and maximize exposure in the global marketplace. The program consists of three focused workshops in spring, fall and winter in New York City.

IFP seeks to ensure that at least half of participating projects have an inclusive range of voices in key positions. We especially encourage female and minority directors to apply, as well as filmmakers from outside NY & LA.

Open to all first time documentary and narrative feature directors with films in post-production. Additional information and online application: www.ifp.org/Labs

Guest Post: How to Maximize Revenue Selling on Amazon

Today’s guest post comes from filmmaker Jed Riffe who I met this year at Slamdance. He told me that he was surprised at how little money filmmakers make selling their films through Amazon and that he had a system that maximized return from Amazon sales at 80%. I of course immediately asked him to write a post to tell other filmmakers how to do it – and he has generously obliged:

How independent filmmakers can maximize their profits selling and fulfilling DVDs on Amazon.com by Jed Riffe

There are two main options that I use to sell DVDs: 1) Self fulfillment for the orders from my websites. 2) Self fulfillment for the orders from my Amazon. I don’t use Fulfillment by Amazon and I will tell you why:

Self Fulfillment from sales on my websites:
I have three documentary film websites that sell DVDs directly to customers (www.jedriffefilms.com) and a consumer can go online to my websites, read about each film, see one or more trailers or clips and if interested, purchase a DVD. On my websites I sell DVDs of my seven, nationally broadcast documentaries for $24.95 plus $10 Shipping and Handling and any applicable state sales tax. I use Paypal as my shopping cart and pay them a fee of $1.31 or approximately 3.75% for each sale. It is easy to fulfill these orders myself. I drop the DVD and a list of all the films in the Jed Riffe Films Collection in the mail and it is done. I spend .25 cents for the mailing envelope and $1.92 in postage and pocket the rest $31.47.
Continue reading →

Troubles at Neoflix – What Fulfillment Alternatives are There for Filmmakers Part 1

Troubles at Neoflix – What Fulfillment Alternatives are There for Filmmakers Part 1

For those of you who have read my book Think Outside the Box Office and my Filmmaker Magazine article on fulfillment from last winter, know that I thought highly of the shopping cart and fulfillment company Neoflix. I used them for Bomb It and had a good experience with them. I also liked what seemed to be an honest commitment to independent film and DIY solutions for filmmakers. The head of the company JC seemed genuinely interested in helping filmmakers.

I am deeply saddened and disturbed that this has turned sour. I have received reports from a number of filmmakers that they have not been paid by Neoflix for months. Some filmmakers are owed hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. When I discussed the situation with JC he indicated that in fact they were having financial problems, were trying to make payment plans with filmmakers and that they had not taken on new clients since September. Most importantly he was trying to raise a round of capital for a new venture that would help them pay back filmmakers. I have not heard that they have yet raised that money. I asked JC this week as to what the status was – he indicated that they are weighing their options and will make an announcement soon.

Today I received a report that the company that Neoflix actually subcontracted out to do the fulfillment of goods, I-Pak has also had financial difficulties with Neoflix and has requested that any filmmaker who has used Neoflix remove their goods from their warehouse by March 1st. If you use Neoflix – you can either contact Patrick Barry – Neoflix’s VP and GM at pbarry@magicrock.com or you can contact I Pak customer service directly at: customer-support@i-pakdvd.com. (I Pak is still a fulfillment company and some filmmakers might want to switch to their services to save the cost of shipping their goods back to them – however considering the circumstances I find this unlikely).

Secondly, one of the filmmakers affected adversely by the Neoflix situation, Matthew Arnold (director of “The Long Green Line”) has started a survey of filmmakers who have used Neoflix – asking them how much money they lost, when they last got paid, if customers received their orders and other questions. You can find the survey here.

Finally is the task of finding a new fulfillment companies for filmmakers to use – not just those who are leaving Neoflix but for all filmmakers. I have continued to hear good things about Transmit Media (http://www.transitmedia.net/) who I included in the Filmmaker Magazine article. Breakthrough Distribution is another company to work with (they work directly with Transmit) concerning replication and fulfillment needs.I did have a very good experience with 4th Way Fulfillment who I also wrote about in that article, but I would still say that 4th Way is mainly an option if you are going to sell lots of merchandise. I recently met a filmmaker who has had great success with Fulfillment by Amazon. He has promised me a guest blog post so stay tuned for that. Topspin is opening their doors in March and they have some technology that looks very exciting. Topspin is probably best used in advance of a films release and then through the release as opposed to the end of a release. (I switched Bomb It and Think Outside the Box Office over to Topspin in August of 2010 in order to do a test run on that new platform – I will be writing more about Topspin in the near future.) Sheri Candler has wrote a good intro review of Topspin last fall in Microfilmmaker Magazine.

Finally, I have also spoken to many filmmakers who do their own fulfillment. They take orders through PayPal and then pick pack and ship themselves. If you are not selling that many DVDs a month (and perhaps only selling DVDs) this might be the best option for you.

I am going to investigate more fulfillment options in the coming month. I would love to hear what other companies you might be using and what your experiences have been so as to build out a better list of companies. If you have suggestions or would like more information on the Neoflix situation please contact me through my blog or at hybridcinema@gmail.com.